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Russians Conversion to Christianity

The conversion of Russians to Christianity was a big step towards Slavic civilization. The role of converting these people was upon the Orthodox Church which played an important role in helping the neighbors of Byzantine to take Byzantine cultures while at the same time helping to spread Christianity. Emperors from Byzantine in their bid to help their neighbors change their barbaric and hostile ways of life tried to use such methods as church conversions, judicious diplomacy and promotion of international trade.

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There were various reasons why Russians were converted to Christianity and in doing so; some strategies were employed by the Orthodox Church and the emperors. This paper is mainly going to focus on these two issues. One of the key steps that were taken in 863 was to provide the Russians or the Slavs who included the Danube who later were conquered by Magyars, the Czechs, the Moravians, Polinians and the Lyakhs who were also sometimes regarded as the Poles with a custom made Slavic alphabet or simply a modified Greek alphabet which was known as Glagothic.

This helped them to make these people feel proud of their work as the Slavic alphabets were to be used in scripture translation and translation of other liturgical works. Invention of Slavic language was a milestone in the spread of Christianity and this became the platform that future conversion activities for the Russians took place. As per the Russian Primary Chronicle, because of the presence of emperors who highly valued Byzantine cultures, many Moravians had been converted by the Orthodox Church into Christianity but the problem was that they could not read the scripture and interpret it in their own language .

This was because they were not familiar with Latin and Greek language that was used in the scripture and the problem was that there were preachers who would teach them this today and tomorrow interpret the same topic differently, now they wanted to be taught a language that they would use to read the bible for themselves and interpret it accordingly because those that came to preach to them would take advantage of their inability to read and interpret the scripture. We understand neither Greek nor Latin some teach us one thing and some another. Furthermore, we do not understand written characters nor their meaning. Therefore send us teachers who can who can make known to us the words of the scriptures and their sense” . To achieve this end, Moravian Slavs led by emperor Kostel, Rostilav and Sviatopolk requested Michael, the Byzantine emperor to help them with teachers who would assist in scripture translation into their native language.

After receiving their request, the emperor asked the most professional scholars in his region to lend a hand in the translation work and they agreed to help. The scholars went to Kostel, Rostilav and Sviatopolk and took it upon themselves the duty of teaching Moravian Slavs how to read the scripture especially after they successively translated it into their Slavic native tongue. They started by composing Slavic alphabet and later they started the work of translating the scripture especially the Acts and the Gospels.

Nothing made these Slavs happier than to hear the gospel preached in their native language. These scholars also helped in translating other pieces of work apart from the scripture for example they translated books such as Oktoechos and the Psalter among others . The zealots were not pleased by the idea of translating the scripture into Slavic language and thus they openly criticized this move. They argued that only Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages were supposed to be used in the scripture but the Pope did not share these sentiments and he dismissed these claims.

To facilitate the conversion work of the Russians into Christianity, Methodius was appointed by Prince Kostel as one of Apostle Paul’s seventy disciples and he was given the task of bible translation, a job that he effectively did within six months but with the help of the two priests who were also professional writers. Methodius being an apostle worked hand in hand in hand with Bishop Andronicus who had been appointed by Apostle Paul to help him in the spread of the gospel to the Moravians . Another major break in the conversion of Russians into Christianity was achieved during the reigns of Vladimir in 980.

Vladimir was a pagan leader who prayed idols and had even erected some of them on the hills and decorated them with gold moustaches and silver heads. Some of these idols were Khors, Stribog, Mokosn’, Dazh’bog and Simar’gi. People would sacrifice their offspring to these idols and thus this land was full of blasphemous blood. In 987 Vladimir after many trials by Bulgars to accept their religion summoned his ‘nobles’ to seek for their advice on whether they should abandon worshipping their idols and adopt other types of religion like that for Germans, Greek or for Jews.

All of these had approached Vladimir and asked him to join their religion and now he was at crossroads to know what step to take from there. The Greeks claimed that whoever worshipped their God would have eternal life but those who followed other faith would burn in eternal fire. After asking nobles their stand, they said that unless they experience immediate knowledge of those rituals then they were not in a position to advice.

They thus went and learnt for themselves but were not impressed by how Germans and Jews practiced their rituals but for the Greek the answer though not very direct was positive. “Everyman, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we can no longer remain here (Paganism)” . They argued that in German rituals they did not see any beauty and that for the Jews was bad but to the Greek’s ritual they could not know whether they were still on earth or in heaven because it was beauty beyond human description.

This made Vladimir jealous and attacked his opponents a year later and proceeded to Kherson and conquered this Greek city. After this he issued demands to the Greek emperors-Constantine and Basil that they had to give to him their unmarried sister or else he would destroy the whole city but they told him that he would only get the girl if and only if, he got baptized as it was against their Christian faith and teachings to sell off their Christian sister to a pagan.

Vladimir badly wanted this girl and thus he softened his heart and agreed to get baptized on condition that he would be baptized by this unwedded girl known as Anne. The emperors agreed to this and people rejoiced and danced as he got baptized. Vladimir then disclosed to them that he knew of their religion as he had sent emissaries before to enquire on the same and they gave him a positive answer . Just as it was a custom to pay bride price after marrying a girl, Vladimir returned Kherson to its rightful owners as his dowry.

When he went back home he ordered all idols to be destroyed and said that those who would not get baptized the following day were not his friends any more and thousands big and small, young and old went to the river to be baptized and a history was made as never before had so many people been baptized at one time. Vladimir after this constructed wooden churches on the grounds where he had set his idols to show the world that he was truly a converted Christian. He also sent priests to go all over the town and cities to preach to the unconverted and convert and baptize them.

The reasons that made the Russians to get baptized was their desire to be able to read and interpret the scripture without asking for an interpreter as those people who came to teach them took advantage of their inability to read and write. That was why they asked Emperor Michael to assist them in composing Slavic alphabets something that they did willingly. Another thing that acted as a catalyst towards Russians conversion to Christianity was Vladimir’s desire to marry Emperor’s unwedded sister. This led to his baptism as well as the baptism of other hundred thousands of his followers.